Cooperation: A New
The new U.S. administration probably did not expect to focus as much attention on
Mexico early in the term, but it is
hard to remember a period of such
intense activity between the two
countries. President Barack Obama
has already met with President
Felipe Calderón twice. Three U.S.
cabinet secretaries, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have
traveled to Mexico City, and there
have been at least seven congressional trips and a dozen congressional hearings focused on the United
States’ southern neighbor.
The flurry of high-level diplomacy should surprise no one. Rising violence in Mexico, fueled in
part by the Mexican crackdown on
drug-trafficking cartels, is a dire security threat to both countries. The
resulting press coverage reshuffled
priorities in both countries.
On drug violence, the two governments have agreed to cooperate on tracking narcotics traffickers
whose operations span both sides
of the border and to work together
on prosecutions. The U.S. has offered to strengthen its existing justice assistance programs, including
helping to modernize courts and
police forces in Mexico. Perhaps
most significantly, it has agreed
to crack down on the flow of drug
money, as well as the arms smuggling trade, which some Mexicans
argue has been, along with the unchecked U.S. demand for narcotics, a prime contributor to Mexico’s
drug violence and corruption.
Even early missteps on both
sides represented an acknowledg-
ment that something has changed.
Clumsy citations by U.S. officials
of a Pentagon study suggesting
that Mexico could be at risk of becoming a “failed state” touched
nerves in Mexico City and led to
serveral overheated comments by
Mexican officials. Clinton’s subsequent appeal for “
co-responsi-bility” in dealing with organized
crime managed to soothe tempers.
And Obama won applause when
he made clear in Mexico City that
the U.S. had to share the blame for
The notion of shared responsibility is not new. To some extent
every U.S. president has made this
point, and it served as the basis for
former President George W. Bush’s
announcement in 2007 of the
Mérida Initiative, a three-year
$1.4-billion package of U.S. assistance to Mexico (and Central America) for combating drug trafficking
and related crimes.
But the shared acknowledgment of the gravity of the crisis has
opened the door for new cooperation. The U.S. has committed explicitly to reducing the domestic
demand for narcotics and to disrupting the southbound flows of
weapons and narcotics money—
estimated at $18 billion to $38 billion annually by the U.S. Justice
Department. The Calderón administration’s commitment to revamp the country’s judicial system
and law enforcement institutions
comes backed by legislation approved last year.
These commitments have translated into concrete actions. The
U.S. Congress approved $420 million in additional funds for the
Mérida Initiative in an emergency
spending bill approved in June. Another emergency spending bill, approved in February, authorized $10